Migraine Stories: Catie, a College Student With Chronic Migraine
What’s your story? Send an email with your name, age, headache disorder, and a little bit about yourself to kerrie [at] thedailyheadache [dot] com. I’ll follow up with some questions for you to answer.
Catie is a 20-year-old college student who has had chronic migraine her entire life. She remembers her first attack at age three, but was not diagnosed until she was five. In writing how migraine shapes her life, she said, “Because I have been dealing with this for my entire life I have no idea what normality feels like, but I also have no idea what kind of person I would be today without it. Having to push through the pain has made me a diligent student and a more empathetic human being, and it has also taught me the value of self-care. Additionally, migraine has given me direction as a student of public health, and in the next few years I hope to do research on the relationship between chronic disease and mental health.” It was a pleasure getting to know this vibrant young woman.
Do you feel like you’ve missed out on school experiences because of chronic migraine?
I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve missed out on anything, but there are definitely certain college experiences that I can’t have as a migraineur. For example, I know that if I want to take care of myself I can’t drink a ton of coffee and pull an all-nighter or go out drinking and partying, because these situations all involve triggers for me. And while I don’t exactly long to partake in these activities, I often feel that I have a difficult time relating to my friends whose lives seem to revolve around them.
How do you manage school with chronic migraine? Do you have any tricks for making it easier? Do you manage differently in college than you did in high school?
I’ve found that managing college with chronic migraine is surprisingly doable so long as I keep in mind that life has not afforded me the luxury of procrastination. Because I have no way of knowing when a particularly bad attack will come on, I always make sure my work is done a few days in advance of the due date. Doing this helps prevent migraine from affecting my grades and holds me to the same standards as everyone else, which is important to me.
In my opinion, college is a much easier environment to navigate as a migraineur than high school. One reason for this is that college assignments are always given far in advance of the deadline. In high school, one bad attack could be enough to affect my grades since homework was due just a day or two after it was assigned. Additionally, college gives me the autonomy to decide if I’m feeling well enough to go to class or if I need to leave to take my medication. In high school, I didn’t get to make these decisions for myself, and that often resulted in delayed medication and worse attacks. Finally, in college all the course material—including PowerPoints and often lecture recordings—is posted online, so I am at less of a disadvantage if I do need to miss class.
What coping strategies do you use to deal with chronic migraine?
The most effective coping strategy for me is to think of all the positive ways migraine has impacted my life. Sure, migraine has caused me incredible amounts of pain over the years. But it has also profoundly influenced who I am. Migraine has helped shape me into a diligent student and a resilient, empathetic human being. I don’t know who I would be without migraine. So every time I have an attack, I have to tell myself that I’ll come out of it a little stronger. I hope that one day I won’t have to live with migraine. But I also have to accept the likelihood that it will always be a part of my life, and I have to be okay with that.
What symptoms bother you the most?
The pain is by far the worst part. It honestly feels like a thunderstorm in my head. I know how little sense that makes to most people, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I can feel the throbbing just by placing a finger on my temples, and the pain gradually centers above my right eye and becomes increasingly intense. It really feels as if the pain has no limit, and it’s very frightening.
What do you wish people knew about migraine?
I wish more people understood that migraine is a chronic disease that can affect a life as profoundly as diabetes or epilepsy. I think people tend to see migraine as a singular event, and that just doesn’t match up with my experience. So much of my life is centered on trying to avoid the pain. So when people who have had a few bad headaches claim that they “know exactly what I’m going through,” that feels really unfair to me.
What else would you like to share?
I would just like to share this photo of myself and my boyfriend, Nick. Nick has been phenomenal in helping me cope with migraine over the past couple years. He is known for spending entire Friday nights lying next to me in a dark room and for reminding me that my migraine attacks are not my fault—not even the ones that follow a moment of weakness involving a Starbucks latte (my biggest and most tempting trigger). I’m so grateful to have that kind of support.
Reader-submitted stories solely represent the personal point of view, experience, and opinion of the author, not of The Daily Headache or Kerrie Smyres.